Pastor’s Friday Comments (10.25.19)

For a pastor, one of the great features about living in the Atlanta area is our proximity to great centers of theological teaching. As a Baptist, I’m particularly proud of and beholden to the McAfee School of Theology of Mercer University. But Atlanta is also home to the Candler School of Theology of Emory University, where I lead a group of students in a contextual education class, and Columbia Seminary, a Presbyterian Church, USA institution.

Besides the incredible faculty at each of these schools, there is also a great group of committed, creative, insightful, and hard-working students that gives me hope for the future of the Church. Throughout my time at two churches in the Atlanta area it has been my privilege to get to know many of these students, and — in some very small way — to help mentor them in the honing of their ministerial skills and in the defining of their calls to ministry.

Parkway has always been known as a great laboratory for these students to learn, as well as a place to put their still-developing skills into practice. You have consistently shown patience, understanding, and appreciation for students who have served in staff positions, done internships and residencies with us, or who have simply been part of the family.

Something I often tell students is that they need to experience a spiritually healthy congregation like Parkway so that, when they see dysfunction in a church, they will recognize it and not assume that it is normal. Please keep making me right about that.

One of the students who passed through our congregational life while he was a student, as our interim youth minister, and then in his first experience as a full-time chaplain, was Patrick Baxter. Last week on your behalf I received a letter from Patrick and I want to share it with you now:

Dear beloved church family,

Finding a church home like Parkway was not something that I would have anticipated coming from a previous church that caused me so much hurt. From the beginning you were a group of people that were welcoming and kind, greeting me with handshakes and hugs from the first day I arrived. As a young minister, It was important to me that I find a place that not only was willing to use my gifts and talents but also one that would stretch and grow me into a better pastor and pastoral caregiver. You guys delivered on that more than I can express. You trusted me with the teaching of your young people, with leading worship services, and with preaching the gospel. You embraced me as a member of your community and ordained me as a Reverend to go out and be an example of Christ’s love to others. That is what I am doing now. I recently accepted a job in Ohio at Akron Children’s Hospital as the palliative care chaplain. I am still looking for a church family and friends because you have set the bar very high. While I am excited for this new opportunity, I am sorry that I could not be around you longer and more often. You have all taught me so much about what it means to be a part of such a loving and supportive community. Thank you for your love and support along my journey to this calling that I have found and love and thank you for teaching me so very much.

Rev. Patrick Baxter, M.Div.

What a joy it is for all of us to see someone over whom we as a congregation have had some influence grow and flourish as a minister. You are doing a great deal to ensure the future of kingdom work around the world. Don’t ever forget that — and live together with that in mind.